Elevate Student Ministries Will Host Youth Summer Camp

A poignant summer memory from my teenage years was going to camp, church camp specifically. I was raised in a Baptist church and as a small child, I saw the happy teens that participated in youth group. It seemed like they were always working on a fun project, volunteering and traveling places together. By the time I was old enough to be in the youth group it was no longer the large and active program it once was. It dwindled down to me and a small handful of others. The church had changed, yes, but also the generation of kids had changed. Most churches, regardless of denomination, see a similar pattern. As soon as kids are old enough to start cultivating their own hobbies and social circles they become less involved with their churches. I wasn’t sure if something like church camp was a thing anymore, where’s the market for it, right?

Youth groups now are composed of Gen Z teens, the least religious out of the generations. The decline in religious association started with Baby Boomers and has only continued to trickle down through the following generations. So how do you maintain or attract youth to church programs? That’s a question that Elevate Student Ministries youth pastor Andrew Clark is always asking, and the answer is always evolving.

“When I was younger it was a balance of, this is my church life, this is my school life. Almost like we’re taught to keep it separate. But, I realized at a young age that I don’t really have to keep it separate if I’m not hitting people over the head with a bible.”

Photo by: AJ Garcia

Elevate is the youth division at the West Side Community Church located in Traverse City and boasts around 130 youth group members. 

For a generation that’s becoming less interested in traditional church services, over 100 middle and high schoolers showing up to service means something.

“So Gen Z is considered the most unchurched population. Not in the sense that they’re not being reached, just in the sense that they’re not going to church. It’s just different now. To them, sitting at a service Sunday morning is just not at the forefront of thought. So, it’s the dynamic of…how do you engage someone who really wants something to be meaningful?”

Looking for meaning might seem like an esoteric concept reserved for aging millennials wrestling with a Sylvia Plath fig tree scenario, but today’s teens are searching for genuine spiritual connection in their own ways too. Andrew has created the youth group of his dreams by blending the impactful experiences he had as a kid in youth group with relevant, cultural topics that today’s youth care about.

“We try to be really practical in our teachings. So, we’ll do a teaching series wrapped around the idea of relationships and call it DTR, Define The Relationship, and talk about what scripture says about how to interact with and love someone and teach it from that standpoint. We try to keep it shorter. We try to do a lot of stuff that’s visual.”

Photo by: AJ Garcia

This year’s camp is a way for youth to connect with each other while still having all the fun that comes with a classic camp experience. The sleepaway camps are held at Starwood Ranch in Kalkaska and typically are split into two weeks; one week for middle schoolers, and one for high schoolers. This year both camps will be cut in half and held the same week.

“Because of all of the COVID stuff, we’re taking some precautions. Our benefit is that we’re not drawing from all over the state or all over the country so it’s a little bit safer in that respect. This year we’re going to do camp July 19th through the 25th. Outcry is July 19th through the 22nd it’s a Sunday morning. Battlecry will start Wednesday evening and go through Saturday.”

The experience may be cut short, but the fun won’t be. I think a misconception of church camp is that it’s a deep dive into religion and focused solely on prayer and spirituality. Although I had morning and evening devotionals, the majority of the time was spent with summertime activities like arts and crafts, swimming and spending time in nature. Not to be overlooked is camp food, of course.

Photo by: AJ Garcia

“There’s Kool-Aid, there’s…they have a name for it and I never remember it because I was always so grossed out by it. Macaroni and cheese with sloppy joe on top…Sloppy Mac! Stuff like that.”

The middle school and high school camps are available for signup at https://www.tcwscc.com/elevate.





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Categories: GTPulse